USSF opening: Rainbow energy

June 22, 2010

Let the naysayers say all they want. If nothing else (and there is certain to be much else) the opening ceremonies of the U.S. Social Forum  proved to be bursting with high-voltage energy and multicultural to the max. As thousands who participated in a parade down Woodward marched into the cavernous convention hall at Cobo Center, the official welcome kicked off (an hour behind schedule) with Native Americans in traditional dress — resplendent with feathers, beads and fringe — dancing to chanted song and drums pounding like a heartbeat, bells jangling in time.

“What incredible energy,” says an older African-American woman from Charlotte, N.C., who came here with 35 others.

She looks up at the stage flanked by two huge video monitors on either side and says, “They’re getting us all …” Words fail her at that point as her hand contracts into a fist and she thumps her chest just over her heart, consumed by the moment.

Organizers promised this would be a rainbow event, and their words proved to be true. Asian, African, Hispanic, Arab, Native American, white and more are here. Strait-laced and dreadlocked, gray haired and fresh faced and the wheelchair bound. All bobbing to the beat in unison.

There are speakers — “We have come here as a collective body do good work,” says Sharon George, a Native American and one of the event’s organizers — and musicians and dancers and poets. Folk and hip hop and African performers strum and rap and drum.

At times it all comes so fast the interpreters on stage providing sign language for those who can’t hear have trouble keeping up.

An Objibwa man  offers a creation story that reminds us of our connections to the Earth, and of our obligation to protect it. And Detroit City Councilmember JoAnn Watson tells the out of towners that they are on sacred ground here in the D, the place where Martin Luther King delivered his first “I have a dream” speech and civil rights icon Rosa Parks made her home and labor unionists shed blood as they fought to advance the cause of working people.

And Saundra L. Williams, president of the Metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO, helped put labor’s stamp on the event, saying she wanted the attendees to become acquainted with what’s going on these days with the union movement, and the movement wanted to get to know them.

In all, it was a show of fellowship and communion among people bound not by color or culture, but by the struggle to survive more and more Americans find themselves engaged in.

It made me think that maybe we are in need of a new term: The marginalized majority.

Part rally, part party. And enough to guarantee this: We are in for an interesting five days, Detroit.